Venue Profile – The Catalyst Atrium, Santa Cruz

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Santa Cruz’s Catalyst Club is one of the most popular venues in the area, and though we like to keep things on the Bay a lot, it’s worth the spotlight this month, as we continue our tour of great venues in this great part of the world. The Catalyst has everything you’d typically expect: fully-stocked bar (which never disappoints), solid kitchen (pizza by the slice!), upstairs lounge and bar for more laid-back nights, and cocktail service in the main spaces; and the lineups are solid. More on that in a second.

First, there’s the space. Like many venues Catalyst has space for bigger shows and more intimate set-ups too – the Catalyst’s Mainstage has space for around 800 people, including some balcony space, but the smaller venue is the Catalyst’s Atrium, and that’s where every performance truly comes alive. Maybe it’s because of the intimate setting, or perhaps it’s because of the way the Atrium seems more open despite being smaller. But whatever the reason, the Atrium is something special: small enough for close encounter shows, but big enough to create some trouble.

The lineup of shows for the rest of March are pretty stellar: as well as an acoustic show from the great Stephen Marley (too bright to be in any shadow), this Saturday 16th March, there’s Swedish EDM from Liquid Stranger, 80s-inspired synth rock from TWRP, and West Coast Celtic punk dynamos Flogging Molly, before an acoustic set from The Offspring at the end of the month. Later, in April, there’s comedy from industry-shaker Hannibal Buress, followed by Earl Sweatshirt (April 20th), Iceage Shame (April 22nd), and Tokyo Jetz (April 23rd).

If you know them, you’ll know they’re worth your time; if you don’t, the Catalyst’s Atrium is a perfect place to check them out. There’s not a bad seat there, and most of the spots give you an up close view of the stage. There’s an informal vibe, and a laidback air which is one of the hardest things for any small venue to nail on purpose. One time last year, when rock artist George ‘Bad to the Bone’ Thorogood happened to play at the venue on his birthday, the staff surprised the musician with an enormous cake as a chorus of the birthday song echoed from the audience.

Another thing that this smaller space has going for it is its location. Since it’s situated at the front of the club, it’s light and airy. Even on the warmest nights, the Atrium is relatively more comfortable and refreshing; it’s no black box, but more the epitome of the laid-back West Coast. And despite having two music venues on the same level, the Catalyst Club has a killer audio system and fantastic acoustics that keep the sounds from clashing. So, even if there are two shows happening at the same time, what happens in the Atrium stays in the Atrium.

It’s a true gem, in a great city, that makes the most of its position and gets some great acts through the doors. Check it out.

Having released albums under Digital Nations, a label founded by Steve Vai, music critic Louis Raphael has remained deeply connected to the pulse of the San Francisco music scene. Following his tenure as the San Francisco Music Examiner for and, he embarked on creating Music in SF® to authentically highlight the vibrant offerings of the city's music scene.

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